To join in with author Dean Wesley Smith, I want to kill a ‘sacred cow’ in the writing world. In fact I want to torture it first, then kill it.
Traditionally, authors are split into two groups: those who outline their work until it’s three times the size of their novel, and those that simply don’t. I hate to mention his name because – gasp, shock, watch out for witch hunters – I’m not a fan, but Stephen King is the most famous pantser, never outlining, just running with an idea. Traditionally, there are two groups.
In the absolute reality, what these groups are about is merely who spends weeks or months ‘plotting’ – which seems to give those that do some sort of elevation on the literary scale; and those that spend those weeks actually writing – which seems to drop them into a pit of sewage when looked upon by the literati. It’s all about ‘my thing is better than your thing.’ Pick up a book right now and tell me if the book had an outline or the author just went for it. Can’t tell, can you?
The two groups are wrong.
There is no such thing as a plotter or a pantser.
Sitting comfortably? Good, stand up, I’m a sadist.
The outline is God. Without the great and merciful Outline one can never write a superior work.
There are two types of plotter: the ones who outline and follow it loosely and the ones who outline and glue it to their body parts. These two factions are at war, mainly because the questions arise: How closely should you follow your outline? If you don’t follow it like a train follows the track then what’s the point of an outline? It becomes an almost philosophical debate, like trying to prove the existence of a supernatural being using only a tape measure and half a lemon.
Outlines are guides, yes. They help spot plot holes and whether or not the story is working from a hundred different angles but you pants more than you plot.
You see, dear plotter, even when you outline and follow it to the nail or let it roam free and call it back when you need it, you’re pantsing. Tell me, in your outline, no matter how dense, did you include all your dialogue? Did you get the minutest description? No? Well, you must have made it up then, outside of the outline, yes? So you pantsed it.
When you begin your outline do you have an outline to show you where to go in the new outline? No. PANTSER! You pants your outline. You made it up off the top of your head before going to revise it.
Plotters don’t exist. They’re pantsers hiding behind a stack of paperwork – like your local councilman.
Like the plotter there are two types of pantser: those that just sit down without an inkling of where they’re heading and those that have worked an idea out in their head.
Those that just sit down and see where it goes are just as much plotters as they are pantsers. While they’re writing, when they see a line to follow, when a plot starts to appear, they follow it working out where to go next. They plot while they pants: also known as plotting your pants, which is curable at a price.
Those pantsers that work things out in their head are plotting without killing a tree or burning electric. They sit down to write with the major points already in their heads.
Plotters seem to think that if they have a stack of paper or index cards or a Scrivener file three terabytes in size, then they are above the ones who don’t need that kind of work.
The Pantsers seem to think wasting a month deciding what you’re writing only to write something that vaguely resembles an outline is pretty much a waste of time and fences them in like a pack of wild Raptors.
Yet, they’re the same person. A pantser will scribble an idea down, so will a plotter. A pantser will use the first draft as his outline, but with more to show for it than a plotter, and the plotter will write an outline that they probably barely look at.
As said, it all comes down to the size of the paperwork. Like how Literary novelists scorn those who release a book every year: “You hack!” It’s all about quantity, yet both plot and pantsed novels are equally good. Sometimes one is better than the other.
Remember folks, it ain’t the size it’s how you use it. You’re all plotters and pantsers no matter how you write. I make a mini outline and probably heavily outline six chapters but that’s it. Some make a list. Some lay out ten or twenty index cards. In the end, somewhere in their process, they will both plot and pants.
So if it bothers you, don’t let it. Every business has sides, writing isn’t an exception. But if you want to keep a healthy mind, ignore the argument “To Plot or to Pants, that is the question,” and just get on with writing.